Is Project Restart Already Void?

Is Project Restart Already Void?

Before the problems with Project Restart are placed under the microscope, let’s make something clear: this is one writer who actually wants to see this season completed. While nothing would humour me more than watching Liverpool being denied a title due to a void campaign, the reality is football needs to come back.

This opinion will be immediately met with disdain. For many, the suggestion sport returns before coronavirus has been eradicated is preposterous. They see it as the money in football coming before the nation’s health.

There are valid points in such arguments against the resumption of the Premier League. But with any risk, the handling of it is played off against the side effects of continued suppression. There has to be a point where the advantages of resuming football – or sport in general – outweighs the potential negatives.

Addressing the financial elephant in the room. Yes, there should be enough money in the game to survive such a setback. FIFA has a billion in its rainy day fund. But sport is business and businesses can be self-serving. Not all clubs will make it through the other side if the delay continues for too long.

Resuming the top flight could have a knock-on effect when it comes to redistributing wealth to the lower leagues. It’s easier to make the rich more benevolent when it’s a condition of them making money again.

A return of televised games would also help pacify a restless nation. With each passing day, the chances of people sticking to the stay at home guidelines diminishes. If they made games free-to-air – say, a couple each day as they chew through the outstanding games in the pile – it will subdue a large portion of the nation.

To make it work safely – and this is where the Premier League cannot get it wrong – it would be ideal to have a single location for all teams and support staff. Hosting all games in a closed village, with everyone tested going in and remaining in complete isolation from the outside world. It’d be a World Cup style tournament with Premier League and FA Cup games.

Integrity

The problem with this idea is teams will say playing at neutral venues calls into question the integrity of the competition. It is a valid point. Why should a club like Watford face relegation because they lost home advantage? The argument it’s the same for everyone is weakened by the fact it hasn’t been the same throughout the entirety of the competition.

Even if officials agreed to allow teams to play behind closed doors at their usual stadium, the question of integrity still stands. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has amended the rule on the number of permitted substitutions for competitions that will be completed within this calendar year.

Being able to make five subs instead of three puts a different take on the game. Those with bigger squads will clearly benefit and it’s a major rule change that only affects a part of the season. All the rules have to be the same from start to finish. The Premier League do not need to adopt this rule, but you can bet they will.

IFAB has also stated VAR can be turned off for the resumption of competitions. It’s the only coronavirus death that’s worth celebrating but further evidence that the proposed returning Premier League will be too far away from the competition that began last August.

There’s also the problem of player contracts. The squads submitted for the Premier League will become invalidated if players move upon expiration of their contract. A little more of that remaining integrity slips away.

So it seems there are two clear choices:

Bring back football, behind closed doors but using existing grounds, keep VAR (never thought I’d type that), and ignore IFAB rule changes.

Or,

Void the season as it can’t be completed in a manner that maintains the competition’s consistency and sporting integrity.

No clubs should be relegated, no titles handed out. Champions League places determined by average-points-per-game to calculate remaining fixtures. Although, there’s surely a UEFA coefficient system that can be used to ensure clubs like Leicester miss out but Arsenal and Manchester United can return.

However they wrap up this season (or don’t), some forward-thinking needs to occur before a new campaign begins. There’s a chance coronavirus could have a winter revival. The next Premier League season needs to be set up in a way it can deal with another lockdown without its integrity being called into question.

The country needs the distraction of sport but it needs competitions to be safe, sustainable and authentic.

Manchester City Take it Away

Manchester City Take it Away

It a shame that the first Football Reflective post in little over a year, and the one to start a new season, is one that’s bound to aim negativity at the defending, record breaking, title retaining Premier League champions. If the sole purpose was to kick-off the 2019/20 campaign with a moan there were far easier targets, but we can save VAR for another day. And FFP is only ever two minutes away from another (well deserved) public stoning.

Manchester City caught the attention of the searchlight by skipping across the prison yard, hoping to escape with thousands of Ticket Points. Until Wednesday afternoon, all seasoncard holders were expecting to collect additional points for every away game they attended. The season long uncertainty for many: weighing up on which day of sale the window will open for them; will it even get that far down the list; should they buy for a dead rubber European away game to collect valuable bonus points, is now a thing of the past.

The new system strips away the secondary method of obtaining points. From now on, only matches played at home generate Ticket Points. This is an attempt to kill the secondary market of ticket resales. Or if we’re to call it for what it has become, touting. Those sat atop the Ticket Point pile can never be caught. They have first dibs on tickets so they always buy them, many regardless of their intention to attend or not.

It has to be said, this isn’t the case with all those rolling around in excess Ticket Points but it’s enough to ensure the points rich stay wealthy and the rest are left scrambling to get away games under their belt. Many will sell on at face value but there are those that profit financially. The problem with City’s new set of rules, is they effectively freeze the points system. Everyone desiring away games presumably has a seasoncard. Whatever the points gap is now, will never change.

Unless a person opts out of cup schemes or avoids the Platinum reward scheme. This has been much maligned over the years. The offer of paying £50 to double Ticket Points earned. A little brown envelope to the ticket office so they can make you appear more loyal. Unfortunately, what was once a subtle bribe will now become a necessity to prevent the 1% widening the gap during a period of stasis.

On top of the away game Ticket Points deletion, the upcoming season will see randomly selected supporters chosen to collect their ticket in person from the opposition’s ticket office. They will be given notice five days before. It’ll be interesting how many are selected per game, and how many then claim they’re actually unable to attend. In principle, this is a sound idea. It prevents the secondary market, it’s the execution City need to master. It was a disaster for European away games.

It’s also an option that should have been tried alongside the traditional method of issuing Ticket Points for away games. A strict vetting procedure could have stopped the 1% buying tickets for matches they couldn’t attend and allowed those below them to slowly amass some genuine points.

Instead, City have gone for the nuclear option. Hopefully this isn’t Phase 1 of a wider operation which sees the average fan further marginalised and given less hope of securing match day tickets.

On a plus note, they have acknowledged the difficulties facing younger supporters. If old fans in the Ticket Points middle ground can’t play catch-up, spare a thought for the 18 to 25-year-olds. They never stood a chance.  The new season will see 5% of away day ticket allocation going into a ballot. That comes out at 150 of 3,000 seats. This seems a fair reduction to general sale to get those denied by nothing more than their year of a birth, a chance to see the Citizens away from home.

Again, it’s a shame they won’t be awarded points for it. The status quo will remain. Unless the club have a wild card up their sleeve. Will they be monitoring fans that regularly attend away matches who would previously been denied due to their low points and inflate their Ticket Points accordingly come the end of May?

The new proposals are bound to receive a backlash. They deal out more punishments than rewards and fail to address underlying issues. It also opens the door for more tiresome “jokes” about empty seats. Hopefully, before next season City will conduct a proper consultation with a wider audience of the fanbase and not a select few who speak without elected authority.

Why the Premier League needed Amazon Prime

Why the Premier League needed Amazon Prime

After months of behind the scenes negotiations, the final two Premier League television packages for the 2019 deal have been sold. BT Sport increases its number of matches to 52 per season for the three-year deal. The big news is Amazon securing the 20 game package which comes with the caveat of showing every game across two distinct game weeks.

One of those is the first round of midweek fixtures in December. This is Amazon’s warm-up. It’ll give Prime Video the chance to iron out any teething problems and also enable them to gather data on viewing habits. Presumably, the initial ten games will be split across two nights in order to maximise the exposure.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is how Prime will show all the Boxing Day fixtures.

Festive games are a staple of the English diet, it makes fan interaction and acknowledgment of Amazon unavoidable. Many will flock to their local pubs, so how Amazon deal with public licenses is something that will be revealed in time. Amazon’s main intention will be to drive new subscribers to their packed Prime offering. Streaming is just a small part of this but they obviously see the Premier League deal as a decently priced advertising campaign.

It’ll certainly offer better value for money than Jeremy Clarkson’s The Grand Tour. That particular show cost Amazon a neat $250m, with BT paying an extra £90m for the less lucrative 20 game package, it’s safe to assume Prime’s acquisition will exceed the £100m mark.

But it might not be by that much. The reason these deals have taken so long to conclude is because their value is a true unknown quantity for all involved. There’s a chance this style of broadcasting, showing every single match from one round of fixtures, will never work with a UK based audience. From Amazon’s point of view, will enough people stream a potential Wolves v Huddersfield clash to justify the attempted push for subscribers?

The idea of Internet channels is growing in the States. Facebook and YouTube now have subscription models and Amazon have aired sporting events already. The Premier League is right to join an emerging market. More than this: it needs to join the platform and make it a success.

When the last TV deal hit revenue of £8.8bn (once overseas rights had been added), there was a growing feeling the peak return had been hit. The £5.14bn from domestic rights didn’t go back to the fans paying at the turnstiles or into grassroots football, it went into the pockets of agents and inflated the global transfer market.

At the time, BT and Sky were locked in a battle for broadband subscribers and addons like sport packages became a premium. BT had already stolen the UEFA Champions League, they wanted a slice of Premier League pie too. Back then, a customer had to juggle multiple subscriptions, even going to the extent of having two boxes plugged into televisions, one for Sky, the other for BT.

That all changed in December 2017 when the companies announced they had come to a deal, allowing them to sell complete packages with both sets of properties merged. Not only could they sell all-in-one sports deals, BT was even able to offer Sky’s Now TV channels which includes the home for Game of Thrones, Sky Atlantic.

Any doubt the peak of what Sky and BT would pay for Premier League matches was removed. Rather than push the prices up, they could now take a more measured approach. Exclusivity wasn’t quite so exclusive. It was no longer a case of one or the other, they’d formed a necessary alliance of sorts.

They could see what was on the horizon: a new world where Amazon or Netflix or even Twitter and Facebook, could offer live games with lower running costs.

So Sky did what Sky does best and tried to bully its way to the result it wanted.

By not engaging with the Premier League over the prospect of streaming all the matches in a particular round of fixtures, it fronted them out. It risked the proposal of a seven-package system falling by the waste side. Had that occurred in 2018, the chances of a later revival would have been highly unlikely.

The Premier League continued the talks with Amazon because it understands the existing Sky monopoly runs the risk of adhering to the law of diminishing returns.

When the sponsorship model was dropped it was a step toward becoming the football equivalent of the NFL or Major League Baseball so its quite fitting they have hooked up with a company that has a foothold in the American market.

Time will tell if this marks a change in how the UK views domestic football but evidence suggests a paradigm shift is already underway.

Research by SMG Insight found that 54% of millennials have watched an illegal stream and 18 to 24-year-olds are half as likely to subscribe to a paid model. The cheap Prime versus expensive Sky offering could convert some of those into legal consumers. With all of Amazon’s 20 games falling within December, those unsure could take out a one-off monthly subscription of £7.99.

If they watch just two games, it’s still trounces BT and Sky in terms of value for money. If some of those experimenters stick around, boosting Amazon Prime’s subscription numbers, it may make the retail giant – and rivals like Netflix – take a serious look at the other packages next time bidding starts.

Which would be great news for the Premier League. At the moment Sky hold all the cards because the give all the money. If people enjoy Prime’s Boxing Day extravaganza, next time the bespoke TV deals might not be on sale at Boxing Day Sale prices, the traditional packages may climb upward again.

And Sky might not be left holding all the best gifts.